Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the hurt business this weekend with the upcoming UFC 215: "Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2" pay-per-view (PPV) fight card, which goes down inside Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on Sat., Sept. 9, 2017.
In case you haven’t heard, Ray Borg was ruled medically unfit to compete and his Demetrious Johnson title fight has been scrapped (full story here).
Taking over for them will be the women’s bantamweight title fight between Amanda Nunes (champion) and Valentina Shevchenko (challenger), recently rebooked from UFC 213, to answer the lingering questions from their first go-round at UFC 196.
All that and so much more.
Before we break down the five-fight main card, take a look at what the dashing and handsome Patty Stumberg had to say about the UFC 215 preliminary card, by way of comprehensive breakdown, by clicking here and here.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to work.
135 lbs.: Amanda “Lioness” Nunes (14-4) vs. Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (14-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: What Amanda Nunes has been able to accomplish under the UFC banner is pretty remarkable. Not only did she win the women’s bantamweight title and then defend it, she stopped three former champions — Germaine DeRandamie, Miesha Tate, and Ronda Rousey — in the very first round.
She might be the hardest hitting bantamweight in the history of the women’s division.
But every one of those Brazilian bombs comes with a price, and what looked like a surefire win over Cat Zingano at UFC 178 became a technical knockout loss to “Alpha” in the third and final frame.
Nunes is not a cardio machine and never will be.
In addition, her two biggest wins — Tate and Rousey — were a stylistic jackpot. Let’s face it, “Cupcake” and “Rowdy” punch like they’re cheering for the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the ninth.
That’s why Nunes wasn't able to steamroll Valentina Shevchenko when they first met back at UFC 196, despite a strong second round. “Bullet” is an accomplished striker in her own right and about as tough as they come.
Heck, if machines guns and dead patrons can’t rattle her, nothing will.
Like Nunes, Shevchenko didn’t get any easy fights in the wake of UFC 196, moving on to face Holly Holm and Julianna Pena in back-to-back contests. After outstriking the former boxing great, the Russian-born Peruvian submitted The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 champ in Denver.
What will be different the second time around?
Shevchenko has a chance to correct some of the mistakes she made against “Lioness” at UFC 196, and you could already see those holes closing in her follow-up performances. Unfortunately, Nunes can’t fix her tiny gas tank, so I would expect the same aggressive (and dangerous) two rounds, followed by a slow and steady decline.
Expect “Bullet” to hit her winded target somewhere late in the fourth frame.
Final prediction: Shevchenko def. Nunes by technical knockout
170 lbs.: Rafael dos Anjos (26-9) vs. Neil Magny (19-5)
Nostradumbass predicts: Rafael dos Anjos was in a big hurry to abandon his post at 155 pounds after coughing up his lightweight title to Eddie Alvarez, then failing to win his rebound fight against Tony Ferguson.
His first trip up to 170 pounds resulted in a unanimous decision win against the notoriously underwhelming Tarec Saffiedine and well, the Brazilian wants us to believe he’s now a contender for the welterweight strap.
Sorry, I need a little bit more than wringing out “The Sponge” before I subscribe to that theory.
Dos Anjos is, and always was, a tremendous pressure fighter with great wrestling. While his jiu-jitsu game is top shelf, he uses it more for positioning and control than actual submissions, simply because he loves to punch people in the head.
This is the fight game, after all.
But this is not the movies where tiny tots like Bruce Lee can chop-socky their way past towering titans like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Opponent Neil Magny will stand six inches taller and have a staggering 10-inch reach advantage.
If he can work the jab and keep himself off the cage, he could probably do that old Looney Toones bit where he holds the head while Dos Anjos swings both arms and misses by a mile.
While Magny is not in the discussion when it comes to title shots, his record speaks volumes about the kind of worker he is at 170 pounds, to the tune of 11 wins against two losses with victims like Johny Hendricks and Hector Lombard, just to name a few.
Not sure what Dos Anjos can threaten with that Magny hasn’t already seen and conquered.
As far as I’m concerned, this is Magny’s fight to lose. Unless he lets Dos Anjos push him around the cage or can’t pull the trigger early and often, there’s no reason he can’t jab his way to the cards a la St-Pierre vs. Koscheck.
Final prediction: Magny def. Dos Anjos by unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo (10-2) vs. Wilson Reis (22-7)
Patrick Stumber predicts: Four consecutive UFC victories, including a split decision over former world No. 1 Jussier Formiga, led Cejudo to a title shot, which came to an abrupt end thanks to Demetrious Johnson’s knees. He went on to fall short on The Ultimate Fighter 24, then again in his fight with rival coach Joseph Benavidez via narrow split decision. He has scored four wins by form of knockout, though none since 2013.
Wins over Dustin Ortiz, Hector Sandoval, and Yuta Sasaki paved the way for Reis’ first title shot this past April. That momentum wasn’t enough to carry him past Demetrious Johnson, who handed him his first-ever submission loss late in the third round. Ten of his professional wins, including two in the UFC, have come by submission.
As of this writing, Cejudo is a -345 favorite. That is just not reflective of this fight. Reis has developed into a fearsome wrestler since joining the UFC flyweight division and his scrambling is top-of-the-line. That said, Cejudo did handle a similar foe in Jussier Formiga with relative ease and Reis has a habit of getting dropped at inopportune times.
I expect this one to be competitive throughout. After seeing him handle Formiga, though, Cejudo’s wrestling and slick boxing have me leaning his way. He shuts down enough takedowns and lands enough power shots to take the decision.
Prediction: Cejudo by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Ilir “The Sledgehammer” Latifi (12-5, 1 NC) vs. Tyson Pedro (6-0)
Nostradumbass predicts: Ilir Latifi has been something of a Cinderella story in terms of UFC, starting out as a training partner for Alexander Gustafsson, then getting the call up when “The Mauler” was split open and yanked from his Gegard Mousasi fight.
Over four years later, “The Sledgehammer” is still here and competing on PPV fight cards.
Unfortunately we haven’t seen much of the stocky brawler is recent months, having been sidelined in the wake of his knockout loss to Ryan Bader in late 2016. While he won’t dazzle you with his toolbox, Latifi remains a fun fighter to watch simple because he punches hard, kicks harder, and loves to brawl.
Those seeking high-level grappling exchanges should look elsewhere.
Opposing him is one of the more exciting prospects at 205 pounds and boy, could we ever use him. While it’s still too early to start planning for any sort of title run, Tyson Pedro has looked every bit the contender, finishing all six of his wins in devastating fashion.
Including four submissions by way of choke.
Latifi has never been tapped out but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible because he’s never really been presented with that sort of threat from a high-level opponent, so we don’t know how good his defense will be when the situation calls for it.
I don’t like his chances.
Pedro is a complete fighter with more ways to win. Assuming he doesn’t get sucked into a phone booth fight, or doesn’t let his ego take over, he should be good enough to hang on the feet until an opportunity presents itself.
Final prediction: Pedro def. Latifi by submission
145 lbs.: Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (22-6) vs. Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens (25-14)
Nostradumbass predicts: Gilbert Melendez has pretty much seen and done it all at 155 pounds and judging by his weigh in, hitting the featherweight mark didn’t appear to be overtly awful.
That tells me “El Nino” probably should have made the drop a few years back when he was still in his prime, but it’s hard to make changes when things are going your way. Four years later, Melendez is 0-3 with a failed drug test to his name.
How the mighty have fallen.
Just how far remains to be seen. Jeremy Stephens isn’t going to reinvent himself at this point in his career, and like Melendez, a drop to 145 pounds was long overdue. It didn’t change his rock ‘em-sock ‘em style of close combat, but it gave him a more level playing field.
He’s tough as nails and hits like a ton of bricks, but not much else.
From that standpoint, Melendez is the superior striker, the more intelligent fighter, and still durable enough to absorb incoming fire without melting. That’s really the key to this fight as “El Nino” will be tagged and need to hold his ground.
If he can, his ability to mix striking and wrestling seemingly at will should be enough to frustrate “Lil’ Heathen” and command a convincing nod across all three scorecards. Either way, this should be a fun fight.
Final prediction: Melendez def. Stephens by unanimous decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 215 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
For much more on this weekend’s UFC 215 extravaganza click here.